When I was a UC Berkeley undergrad in the late '90s CALPIRG was best known for activism on financial issues - student fees, credit card companies, things of that sort. Worthy causes, of course, but I never expected them to get that involved in high speed rail. That's exactly what they've done, however, over the last few months. From their high speed rail spring break in March to their current activism on campuses like UC Irvine CALPIRG has emerged as one of the most important organizations backing the HSR project.
CALPIRG's legislative director, Steve Blackledge, has an op-ed at the California Progress Report explaining CALPIRG's strong support for HSR, emphasizing energy independence:
Nothing bums me out like realizing that all the money I spend on gas helps keep oil barrens like ExxonMobil in the black, while contributing to smog and global warming.
One good thing about high-speed rail: No gas. And right now, with gas prices going from costly to scary, that's no small advantage....
California has a choice to make. With our growing population we have increasing transportation needs, however expanding highways and airports have huge price tags attached. For example, the master plan to expand LAX airport would cost more than $11 billion. Meeting interstate requirements for Highway 99 in the Central Valley and widening to eight lanes would cost between $20 billion and $25 billion. Expanding roads and airports cost us more than just money â?" they also increase our oil dependence, contribute to sprawl, and lead to even more unhealthy pollution.
All are excellent points, and students find them compelling. Earlier today I asked students in my poli sci class to propose a solution to the problem of high gas prices - they could offer whatever they chose, and I expected half would try to focus on lowering prices at the pump and the other half would focus on alternatives. As it turned out, virtually all of them focused on alternatives, with three quarters calling for higher gas taxes (and most of my students are car commuters!). High speed rail was a frequently cited proposal they wanted to build, which warmed my heart because I haven't mentioned it or this blog to them at all.
And we would be wrong to dismiss this student support for HSR. Polls show that young people are going to turn out in enormous numbers this fall, and that will only be solidified with Obama on the ballot in November, as now seems likely. Strong support from California's students may be what helps the HSR bond survive the election.
It would be fitting. If the students are our future, they're making a strong statement about what kind of future they want - a future with sustainable transportation like high speed rail.